Young Heiress Inherits Tens of Millions of Dollars, Wants to Donate 90 Percent of It

Marlene Engelhorn is not your average millionaire. At age 29, she has more money than she knows what to do with, so she has decided to give away 90 to 95 percent of her inheritance of tens of millions of dollars.

Marlene Engelhorn is the granddaughter of 94-year-old Traudl Engelhorn-Vechiatto, a member of the famed German industrial family whose patriarch, Friedrich Engelhorn, founded the chemical giant BASF in 1865. Traudl’s brother-in-law, Curt, ran the family business until 1997, when it was sold to Roche for about $11 billion. At the time of the sale, Marlene’s grandmother received approximately $2.45 billion, a veritable fortune that ballooned to $4.2 billion, at the time of her death, earlier this year. Marlene Engelhorn now stands to inherit tens of millions of dollars, but she doesn’t want it.

Photo: Jp Valery/Unsplash

Can you imagine coming into all this money and deciding to give most of it away? Marlene understands that her decision may sound strange to some people, but she makes it perfectly clear that she doesn’t have anything against being rich, just against being THIS rich. She claims that hearing her grandmother’d decision to leave her tens of millions of dollars didn’t make her happy, on the contrary, it annoyed her.

“It should not be my decision what to do with my family’s money, for which I did not work,” the young woman explained. “Managing that heritage takes a lot of time. That is not my life project.”


The 29-year-old has known about her inheritance for at least two years, and has actively been thinking about how to get rid of most of it. Giving it away to charity is the easiest option on the table right now, but she resents the fact that she, as an individual who didn’t work for any of that money is allowed to decide what causes are worth donating to.

“This is not a question of will, but of fairness,” Engelhorn said. “I have done nothing to receive this legacy. This was pure luck in the birth lottery and pure coincidence.”


In an interview with VICE, Marlene Engelhorn criticized many of the world’s super-rich for engaging in philanthropy with a fraction of their wealth and using this as a technique to avoid paying taxes as much as possible. She doesn’t think that this sort of behavior should be celebrated, because it is dishonest.

According to Marlene Elenghorn, no one should have unimaginable amounts of money in such an unequal society. She considers a more equitable redistribution of wealth and higher taxes on the super-rich critical to the well-being of our civilization.


Engelhorn, who is currently a student at the University of Vienna, is a member of Millionaires for Humanity and a promoter of the Taxmenow initiative.

Asked where she sees herself in the future, after having given up 90 to 95 percent of her inheritance, Marlene Elenghorn said: “I do not know that yet. But I want to work hard. As does everyone else.”

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